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68th Sentai (68th Flying Regiment)
Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF)

Background
The Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) 68th Hiko Sentai (68th Flying Regiment) operated the Type 97 Fighter / Ki-27 Nate and later the Type 3 fighter / Ki-61 Tony.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 14th Hiko Dan (14th Flying Brigade). During April 1943 operated from Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul. In June 1943 to Boram Airfield near Wewak. The unit also operated from forward airfields including Cape Gloucester Airfield on West New Britain, Nubia Airfield near Hansa Bay and Alexishafen Airfield on the north coast of New Guinea.

On July 20, 1943 five Ki-61 Tonys intercepted B-24D "Virgin III" 42-40327 near Bena Bena. Captain Shogo Takeuchi (C. O. 2nd Chutai) claimed the bomber as shot down, the unit's first aerial victory in New Guinea.

During November 1943, Ki-61 Tony 263 was abandoned at Cape Gloucester Airfield. Likely, the aircraft had mechanical problems and was carefully hidden with palm fronds as camouflage and was not damaged by Allied bombing raids.

On December 21, 1943 the unit particpated in a mission to escort Ki-48 Lilys attacking Arawe. Over the target, intercepted by P-47. Lost returning from the mission was Ki-61 piloted by Takeuchi who was severely injured in the crash and later died.

On December 22, 1943 scrambled from Boram Airfield to intercept B-25s escorted by P-38 Lightnings from the 80th Fighter Squadron attacking the Wewak and the 15th Resupply Convoy were unloading in Wewak Harbor. Also intercepting were Ki-43 Oscars from the 59th Sentai. Lost was Ki-61 pilot Motoyama and Ki-61 pilot Tahata (WIA, survived).

On January 16, 1944 took off on a fighter sweep and strafing mission against Nadzab Airfield led by Major Kiyoshi Mimura. Intercepted by P-40s and P-38s three pilots are lost: Major Kiyoshi Mimura (MIA), Sgt Masaru Kawamoto (MIA) and W/O Takashi Noguchi (POW).

On July 25, 1944 the unit was officially disbanded.

Markings
The unit motif was a triangular stylized "6 in V" marking on the tail. Sentai Hombu (Headquarters) was blue outlined in white, 1st Chutai white with red outline, 2nd Chutai red with white outline and 3rd Chutai yellow with white outline.

68th Sentai Aircraft Wrecks
Click For EnlargementOn December 30, 1943 U. S. Marines captured intact Ki-61 Tony 263 at Cape Gloucester Airfield. The aircraft was intact but submerged up to the wings due to recent rains and flooding. After being reported to Allied intelligence, it became known as the "Cape Gloucester Ki-61" or "Cape Gloucester Tony". This aircraft was transported to Australia for repair and flight testing at Eagle Farm Airfield assigned to Air Technical Intelligence Unit (ATIU) with tail code XJ003. Later to the United States for technical evaluation and flight testing.

During December 1943 or January 1944, Ki-61 Tony 640 force landed in kunai grass near Yiliwe (Yilui) / Nuku to the south of Aitape and the pilot likely survived. This aircraft remained in situ until 1975 when partially salvaged with the rest recovered in 1984 and became part of the PNG Museum collection until exported and sold.

References
Emblems of the Rising Sun page 32
Japanese Army Air Force Fighter Units And Their Aces 1931-1945 pages 44 (January 15-16, 1944) 160-161
248th Hiko Sentai: A Japanese “Hard luck” Fighter Unit, Part 3 by Richard Dunn
"The following day [January 16, 1944] Major Kiyoshi Kimura of the 68 th Sentai led the Japanese fighter force. The 248 th under Capt. Tozuka flew as part of the 59 th 's formation led by Capt. Shigeo Nango, one of the most successful Japanese fighter pilots in New Guinea. The Japanese flew to the Madang area to challenge American strike aircraft. The mission proved disastrous. No pilots were lost from Nango's formation but the other Japanese units suffered heavily. The 68 th and newly arrived 63 rd Sentai suffered the loss of seven pilots including Major Kimura and W.O. Noguchi. It seems in total ten Japanese fighters were shot down. Most of these fell victim to fifteen P-40Ns of the 35 th FS, which claimed nineteen victories. Some may have fallen when a few of the Japanese fighters attacked two formations of B-25s that claimed to have destroyed three ZEKES (including fighters reportedly seen to crash into the sea from low level). Finally the Japanese fighters engaged in a 25-minute combat with sixteen P-38s. For the day the Japanese claimed seven bombers, three P-38s and three P-40s. Only one B-25 was lost and a few others damaged. Three P-40s and three P-38s were damaged."

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